Rumors of possible Copper Mountain sale still swirling | AspenTimes.com

Rumors of possible Copper Mountain sale still swirling

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily NewsSummer activities at Copper Mountain continue uninterrupted while rumors about a possible sale of the resort circulate among residents and property owners.

COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. – In the absence of any substantive news from Intrawest about a possible sale of Copper Mountain, the rumor mill at the resort is in high gear these days.

The latest word on the street, fueled by a post on http://www.skiresortsmarket.com, is that a company called CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc. is interested in Copper, but Intrawest officials remained mum.

Other property and business owners at Copper said they’ve heard that Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic, has looked at the resort, and that former owners and executives Tony Novelli and Harry Mosgrove have also been sniffing around for a potential deal.

“I’ve heard so many things I feel like a porcupine,” said Frank Inserra, who has lived at Copper since 1996.

“We’ve heard that CNL was interested and in the discussion phase,” said Inserra’s wife, Linda.

The Inserras, who live in the Bridge End condos, said they’ve seen various processions of people wearing suits and ties traipse through the resort in the past few months, speculating that those tours were for potential buyers. Along with other Copper residents, they heard the speculation that a sale was due to close by the end of August.

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“We don’t comment on anything by way of rumor or speculation,” said Ian Galbraith, an Intrawest spokesman based in Vancouver. “We are always actively searching for ways to enhance our properties,” Galbraith said.

Intrawest is owned by New York-based Fortress Investment Group, a public hedge fund and private equity firm that’s taken a drubbing in the past year. The company came close to a last-minute deadline before reaching a one-year deal to refinance $1.7 billion in debt last October. Fortress bought Intrawest in 2006 for $2.8 billion.

Fortress last week reported a $171 million net loss for the second quarter of fiscal year 2009, ending June 30. In the second quarter of 2008, Fortress reported a loss of $250 million. The company raised $219.5 million in net proceeds by selling 46 million shares in a common stock offering in May, and used half of that to pay down debt.

In early August, Intrawest agreed to sell its interest in the lodging and commercial operations at two resorts in France. In California, the company may be in the process of selling its interest in a base area development at Squaw Valley, according to unconfirmed reports.

The closest Intrawest has come to acknowledging a potential sale of Copper was in April, when company chief Bill Jensen visited Copper and said that future financing for the highly leveraged company could depend on selling some assets.

“The reality is, in this global economic challenge, that we have to take every step to survive. We’re looking at all the options to reduce our debt,” Jensen said in April, after being asked to address rumors that Copper Mountain is for sale. “Copper is not one we want to sell,” Jensen continued. “There are some assets that are core to our business … But we’re exploring all the options.”

“I hope that something happens,” said Michelle Tekampe, of Snow Bridge Square Liquor. “It seems that things are on hold. Intrawest doesn’t seem to be willing to put money into events to bring people to the resort,” she said.

“I just wish they would tell us more about what’s going on. It’s tough to plan long-term when everything is just based on rumors,” said another business owner at the resort who asked not to be identified.

In April, Jensen said Copper and Winter Park – which Intrawest operates for the City of Denver – both performed well given current economic conditions, as did several of Intrawest’s Eastern resorts.

But real estate and development, which has been a huge part of the company’s business, is bogged down, with a tremendous amount of investment in non-resort properties, Jensen said.

Intrawest has completed several large development projects at Copper’s base area and recently won approval for a master plan change that opens up new development potential. Some property owners at the resort have been pleased with the Canadian company’s stewardship of the resort, while others still seem to resent what they consider to be heavy-handed treatment of residents and independent businesses.

bberwyn@summitdaily.com

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